I would say the one question I hear most often, be it from online or personal friends, is how I manage to get so much accomplished with four small children and a household to run along with my blogging endeavors. It admittedly can be a challenge to get everything knocked off of my to-do list every day, but I can tell you that my biggest sanity saver is something that you might not expect.
My #1 sanity-saving secret is to make a menu plan each and every week.
After I shared a photo a week or two ago on Instagram of my weekly menu-planning process, I received an amazing outpouring of positive feedback. Many of you responded that menu-planning is an essential part of your routine, too, and that you couldn’t function without it, while many others wrote emails and left comments wanting advice on how to get started planning their own weekly menus.
Today and tomorrow, we are going to talk all about the ins and outs of menu-planning, starting today by covering the question of why exactly to bother planning a weekly menu in the first place. And then tomorrow, I am going to share my 7 essential menu-planning tips, PLUS I am going to share a free printable menu-planner that you can print out and use in your own menu-planning endeavors!
So, back to today’s topic: What exactly is the big deal about menu-planning, anyway?
I am so glad you asked!
Menu-planning might not sound like the most glamorous, exciting prospect, but let me assure you that this small change you can make to your regular weekly routine can absolutely change your life in too many positive ways to count! Today I have distilled that list of positives down to the 4 most positive areas of impact that menu-planning can make on YOUR family.
1. Menu-Planning Prevents Stress.
How many times have you found yourself in a situation much like the following: The witching hour hits (that glorious time between the hours of 5 PM and bedtime when even the most angelic children seem to morph into completely incorrigible beings), and you are finding yourself standing in front of the pantry/refrigerator/freezer trying your darnedest to come up with a way to turn the only edible items in your house–let’s just say, butter, frozen strawberries and a can of tuna–into a decent meal to put on the table in between helping with math homework, changing diapers and answering the phone (because everyone knows that even if the phone hasn’t rung all day long, it will, without fail, choose to ring at 5:30 in the evening, right in the midst of the rest of the chaos). Friends, I have been there and done that, and I have the pizza delivery place on speed dial to show for it. After living and learning, though, I can tell you without any hesitation some very sure words of hope: It doesn’t have to be so hard!
Even in the midst of a crazy, hectic lifestyle, it is possible to put wholesome food on the table for your family without wanting to pull your hair out, and menu-planning is the secret to success.
Knowing each and every evening what is on tap for dinner allows you to dwell less on food preparation, focusing more instead on food enjoyment. (A bit more on that later.) It gives you the assurance that, even on the most stressful of days, you won’t have to scramble to find something to feed yourself and your family.
2. Menu-Planning Saves Money and Reduces Waste.
Surely I can’t be alone: 9 times out of 10, quick “bread and milk” midweek grocery runs turn out be more like “bread, milk and two dozen other item” grocery runs. And, over time, those extra purchases can add up to a LOT of wasted money spent on impulse buys. For anyone who tries to stick to a grocery budget, nothing can serve as a more sure-fire stumbling blog to budgeting success than not starting off each week with a plan. Having a comprehensive list and making one weekly grocery run each week allows you to stay focused, and it also enables you to plan to use certain ingredients more than once, thus eliminating waste. Menu-planning will all but help you completely stop having the throw out unused, spoiled food, which is essentially an act of throwing hard-earned money and precious resources into the garbage.
3. Menu-Planning Helps You Make Healthier Food Choices.
When a plan is set in place for eating nutritious, thoughtful meals, there is far less of a likelihood for you to fall back on less healthy meal alternatives. Don’t get me wrong: even with a meal-planning system that I abide by faithfully, our family still makes occasional fast-food runs on days that prove to be particularly challenging. (Recent plumbing issues in our kitchen last week, for example, were a reason to set aside the menu plan on that day and get take-out instead.) However, when convenience and fast foods become the norm rather than the exception, menu-planning can be the vital key to ensure the stress of coming up with last-minute meal options for your family doesn’t prevent you from serving your family the healthiest possible food you can offer.
4. Menu-Planning Encourages Eating Together as a Family.
Some of my fondest childhood memories are of conversations held around our family’s dinner table. So much is learned about those we love when we sit down to break bread together, and having a menu plan in place will help you take part in this meaningful ritual far more often. Not only that, but I have discovered having a plan for what will be served for dinner each night encourages each member of our to all help out in the process of preparing meals. Cooking dinner with my kids is one of my very favorite parts of my day!
Don’t get me wrong: there are plenty of days when things like baseball, ballet and piano get in the way of us all eating together, but knowing on those busy nights exactly what I will serve the kids in between practices and lessons allows me steal a few minutes here and there to sit down with my children and talk with them about their day instead of scrambling to find something to feed them in the first place!
Now that you’ve seen just how positive the impact of having a meal plan can be on your family, are you ready to get started implementing a meal-planning system of your own? Be sure to check out the second and final part of this meal-planning series, where I share my 7 best pieces of meal-planning advice PLUS a free meal-planning printable to make getting started a snap.